For the last few days, the buzz among gaming blogs and Twitter was that Valve might release its mind-warping puzzle game Portal 2 on Friday, instead of Tuesday as scheduled. The speculation was sparked by an alternate reality game, which invited players to decipher images for clues of what would happen next.
As with most ARGs that are tied to marketing campaigns, participation is superfluous. Eventually all hands are shown either way, and so today we have a website that lays out the meaning behind the garbled messages: Yes, Valve will release Portal 2 earlier than expected, but only if people
buy a $39 bundle of play any of 13 indie games from a bundle known as The Potato Sack.
Immediately, there were fears that the promotion would trigger a backlash — hell hath no fury like a gamer entitled — but so far the sentiment seems to lean in Valve’s favor. Of course, some people will complain. One disgruntled Twitter user said Valve will be “ranked among Activision in the evil department,” but I think most people recognize that this is a harmless promotion that supports independent game development.
It’s also an example of Valve’s clever business tactics with its Steam PC game service. The company is a pioneer of the downloadable video game fire sale, routinely giving away bundles of games at rock-bottom prices. In the case of Portal, Valve is using one of its most anticipated games to drum up sales of lesser-known titles, in turn feeding into the hype of Portal 2. Pretty clever, I think.
It’s just a shame for the folks who invested time and effort in ARG. They’re reduced to cogs in Valve’s marketing machine.